Take a moment and evaluate your physical body. Can you use your arms? Check if you don’t think so. What about your legs? Fingers, toes, spine and back muscles? Are you breathing? Your brain works, because you’re reading these sentences. Ok. You have a functioning body – congrats! Now, before you go into spirals of “I wish my body was ______,” continue reading as to why I am grateful and inspired to use my functioning body.
I volunteer at the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM), a world-class science museum whose staffing and volunteering policies are cutting edge. One way they role model excellence to other institutions is their recruitment of minorities – ethnic, religious, gender and sexual orientation, from difference age groups, various socioeconomic classes, and disabled folk. To visitors, whether we are abled or disabled shouldn’t matter, as long as we can effectively answer questions and meet their needs. Yet I find visitors consistently prefer communicating with me rather than interacting with the volunteer sitting next to me who has learning disorders affecting his eyes and speech. I have watched visitors completely ignore a beautifully kind staff member who struggles to walk with a walker, instead asking the able-bodied volunteers questions that only a staff could answer. Many visitors do choose to interact with the nearest museum personnel, regardless of ability – and probably we who choose to interact across abilities come away better people. Inevitably I leave my volunteer shifts profoundly grateful for my body’s responsiveness and ability to move.
An opportunity came last week to learn lessons from two Croatian social justice activists working with Syrian refugees over the past four years. Near the end of the powerful workshop, one participant asked how we, although removed from the conflict zone and the main concentrations of refugees, can support both aid workers and refugees. The activists immediately responded, “You are able, no? You can use that ability to come to a refugee camp and work, to promote organizations who do just that, to contact your political representatives, to chat with your neighbors about it, to start food and clothing drives.” Her response struck a chord: there are so many reasons to passionately engage with the greater world, and yet so many of us who are able forget to look beyond our suburban realities.
I am inspired to use my able-bodied-ness to help make someone else’s life easier – I do not need for you to throw yourself behind helping international refugees. I ask only that you take time to reflect on how you use your abilities currently…are there passions you wish to pursue? Where in your life can you make someone else’s life, even a sibling, neighbor, or child, better? Now do it!